Far, far away, in a plush hotel room in Zurich, two old sportsmen had gotten together to play for the pot.
The lights were turned down low. The air was thick with smoke, as God and the Devil faced each other across a small folding table. Now the ritual exchange of banter began.
"When's the last time we got together like this, I wonder?" mused the Devil. "Was it Sichuan, in '03? The typhoid pandemic that never was?" he prompted.
Being omnicogniscent, the Lord never had trouble remembering details.
"Noooo, I think it was in Acre, '66. That affair with the relics."
"Hmm." the devil nodded thoughtfully
"Shall we just begin, then? The Last Trump, as they say, and we'll see if we can't beat that Rasputin chump to it?"
"Right you are, G. Just let me, um, get something."
In the bathroom, the Devil clicked his finger. 'That ought to do it', he decided. 'They'd have to do the rest on their own.'
"I think it's a trap." volunteered Bob.
"No-one asked you what you think." snapped Guy. "So shut up and lend a hand."
"I'm just saying..."
"Saying what, exactly, Mister Clever?"
"Well, flashing neon signs saying 'Secret Elevator Here' don't just appear, do they? It's a bit, well, odd."
Jill, feeling around on the grass, felt something click. With a silent whirr, a chrome elevator slid up out of the empty field.
"You were saying?"
They piled in, and it whirred silently down again.
Squashed up against Richter and the boy in the lycra, Bob watched the layers of earth slip by and felt wretchedly put-upon.
"I still say it's odd..." he muttered.
Leicester was lost. All the low, stone corridors looked the same to him, and he was wandering aimlessly through the labyrinth, feeling his rage building. He tried smashing the walls in, but all he gained was a bruised fist and an insight into Druidical building standards.
A Tannoy crackled into life next to his ear.
"Testing, one, two etc. Are you there, pirate?"
Rasputin was seated in the central domed chamber, with blue flickers playing across the ceiling. The Cast-Iron Laundry Wringer was installed on the altar in the centre, and some bunting was hung around the walls. Annabel stood off to one side, massaging her temples and wishing the end of the world would come soon, because she had a migraine coming on.
In deference to Rasputin's villainhood, the monk was idly stroking a large white cat. He tapped the microphone, and resumed.
"I'm going to try a little trick, pirate, and I want you to tell me if you find it amusing. Are you ready? Here we go..."
Tongue sticking out, and consulting the faded notebook, he began to turn the wringer handle in a complex curve. He finished with a small flourish, sat back and waited.
A second later, a hoarse voice full of astonished vileness spoke from his lap:
"wHAt DId you DO?"
The monk grinned.
"Watch out!" squeaked Guy. The Agents flattened themselves against the wall, and he peered around the corner.
"It's Leicester," he whispered. "He seems to be... licking himself...?"
Guy walked out and strode up to the hulking demon, who looked at him in some amazement, and said:
Rasputin had of course made one elementary mistake with two less than comforting consequences...
Firstly in transferring the consciousness of The Leicester into the cat and vice versa; he had nullified an immediate threat to the Agents infiltrating the underground network of caverns. Secondly, and possibly most distressing of all, he had introduced, and this we want to stress, AT GROIN LEVEL - A severly p****d off demon with teeth, four sets of claws and a viscious streak a mile wide.
The scream went on for a long time and was VERY high.
"What was that?" said Bob nervously.
"Take heart brothers - we will face this evil together," said a staunch Richter trying to bolster some confidence...
"meeeooow?" said Leicester.
"This way" said Guy pointing down a gloomy passage-way.
"ai-aiiii-Arrgghh!!!!" - echoed the scream around the ancient Stone Henge Catacombs
Annabel suppressed a smirk. She didn't trust magic, and she was beginning to realise that she didn't like the monk very much either. So it was with no small pleasure that she watched him writhing on the floor, clutching what he had once called 'the seat of my holyness', half-unconscious, while some worried aides (with clipboards) huddled around him. Off to one side, the Leicestercat was holding off five heavily armed Marines, by hissing and making himself appear bigger than he was.
Of course, it was a great honour to be selected as the one to assist the Beast in his infernal designs. She recalled her pride when the Grand Master of the Cult had tipped her on the head with the ceremonial pilchard...
But the reality of the assignment was quite distasteful. Rasputin was sleazy. He had put his hand on her leg at their first meeting, and it had taken a firmly placed stiletto heel to call him off. Besides, she liked the world, and could think of no possible benefit to destroying it. She idly picked up the notes that Rasputin had dropped, and flicked through to the passage that he had circled and underlined. It vividly described the probable effects of the apocalyptic sequence that he intended.
She shuddered, and felt the reassuring weight of the blackjack in her executive purse. 'Where were the Agents?'
The Marines had finally pacified the Leicestercat with some catnip (standard US Army issue: stunning cats, for the use of). He was now drooling gently and staggering into walls. They softly nudged him into a catbox (again, standard issue: detaining cats, for the use of), and the danger to the POTUS was averted.
"Take the cat topside!" she barked, "And stay up there, too. You're no longer needed. You, too." she ordered the aides. They obediently filed out, leaving her alone in the chamber with the prone monk.
Now she slipped the blackjack into her hand, hefted it and strode decisively towards the monk. It was time for a career choice, and she had decided that her prospects were brighter in a future which didn't involve the destruction of the world.
This would be quite unpleasant. Usually she was at least three levels removed from any loss of life occuring as a result of her business.
"Mr Rasputin? - " she began.
"Hnnghh..." he squeaked.
"I'm afraid I'm going to have to terminate our partnership. Goodbye, sir"
She steeled herself, bent over the writhing monk and began beating around the head.
He jerked up, eyes wild, and bellowed. Thinking fast, Annabel sprayed Mace into his face. He thumped to the floor twitching, and she resumed the beating, until his pulse ebbed and ceased, and his breathing too.
She flicked an errant strand of hair from his face. Then she stared at the Laundry-Wringer for a moment. Clearly it wasn't safe. Who could dispose of it? Obvious.
Picking up the monk's microphone, she spoke over the Tannoy into the corridors.
"Agents? Are you there? Could you please come to the central chamber now? We need to interface. Um, I'm happy to say that the situation re: end of the world has been resolved. So if you would please follow the line of the spirals on the wall, you'll find the chamber. The monk is dead. I killed him..."
"What's going on?" said God, a smile creeping over his face. "Well, this is wonderful. So much for the monk, eh D?"
"Humph" commented Beelzebub. "Just wait..."
A pair of immensely strong hands grasped Annabel's neck from behind and tugged. She was slammed with bone-jarring force against the slab wall, and Rasputin's face thrust in hers. Streaked with blood, eyes wildly rolling and dribbling slightly, he was a formidable sight. He held her in an unbreakable grip.
"Thilly little girl, thtriking me like that" he screeched in her face, then spitting out a tooth, he continued. "Now I shall have to hurt you, pretty little girl."
He yanked her forward roughly, then shoved herbackwards. Her head smashed into the wall and it all went bright and painful as she blacked out.
Far above in the carpark, several Marines lay very badly mutilated. A Humvee jeep was on fire, and some haggard footsoldiers crouched behind it, afraid to come out. When one of them finally worked up the nerve to peek around the burned out shell, all that could be seen was the tattered catbox.
"Roger Green Team - All Clear." he joyfully reported, "the feline presence has left, repeat, the cat has gone...".